Virginia May Stonebarger, age 93, passed away peacefully on June 23, 2019 at Gilchrist Hospice Center in Towson, MD.
Virginia (or Jinny to many of her friends) was born to James Holly Hanford and Helen Ellwanger Hanford on March 9, 1926 in Ann Arbor, MI.
She spent most her youth in Cleveland Heights, OH, and then studied art and education at Antioch College from 1945-1950. At Antioch she also met her future husband Bill Stonebarger, and after college they lived a short time in Colorado Springs before moving to New York City, where Virgiina studied art at the prestigious Hans Hoffman School. She also gave birth to her two sons Michael and Andrew.
In 1958, the family moved to Hartland Wisconsin where Virginia was hired as the head of the art department at University Lake School. Her lifelong career and love of art, and teaching others, was well under way. After a divorce from her husband she acquired art related teaching positions at two technical colleges in the area, and at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
During this time she never stopped painting and exhibiting her works at different venues in the area, sometimes resulting in media publicity lauding her unique style. As the UWM Post wrote in 1982 “Virginia Stonebarger’s art is colorful, vivd, audacious, and alive. Just like the woman herself.”
In 1983 she moved to Tucson, Arizona and spent 35 years there where her career as an independent artist flourished. At a time when most people are eyeing or experiencing retirement, the third act of her life might well have been the most active and rewarding. She participated in a number of shows in the Tucson area, including a yearly event at the Tucson Museum of Art, won numerous painting awards, and regularly held private painting classes and workshops, inspiring others and passing on her art expertise.
In Tucson’s hottest times she would often have exciting art discussions, video presentations, and pot luck parties with like minded folks at her air conditioned home. Throughout her entire time in Tucson, she lived almost solely on her painting sales and on the revenue from art lessons that she gave, a feat that few modern artists can claim. She also traveled extensively during this period, spending many of the summers in Wisconsin, the Grand Canyon, Santa Fe, and other parts of the United States, visiting friends and relatives along the way.
Virginia often credited Hans Hoffman and Cezanne as her influences in art and she had an easily recognizable style where her canvas was defined by shapes and swaths of glorious color. Her work was abstract but always retained the structural integrity that was needed to identify subjects, landscapes, and moods. Some of the more common themes in her paintings were architecture, horses and nature, but she also had the inner fortitude to embark on artistic whims that struck close to her heart.
In Hartland, she painted a magnificent three-dimensional structure, where lines and shapes moved and flickered as you walked from from one side to the other. She attached it to the side of her house where it stood handsomely for many decades, even after multiple changes of ownership.
Virginia traveled to Iowa and did many paintings of the bridges of Madison County, a theme which struck a chord in her own life. She worked at the Grand Canyon for several years as a guide in the summer, in part to do some stunning paintings depicting this wonder of the world. She also took on a large commission assignment to paint two massive horse racing mastepieces that stood at the Arlington Park Race Track in Chicago for many years in the clubhouse.
Virginia lived life on her terms, accumulating scores of friend, collectors,, and art aficionados along the way.
After her divorce, Virginia enjoyed several personal relationships with other men and in the last years of her life struck up a friendship with an old Antioch College friend, remaining in close contact with him through the final months.
Virginia spent the last year of her life in Baltimore, where her son Andrew lived, and spent it swimming, playing scrabble, talking to her two sons, and making more friends at her apartment complex.
The rest was well earned, but even at 92 she couldn’t resist holding just a couple of art classes for the apartment neighbors. An artist, teacher, and all around free and independent spirit until the end, this was Virginia’s life and legacy. In the succinct words of one of her nephews, “She Lived!”.
Virginia is survived by her sons, Michael and Andrew, her sister Holly Trahan, and her nephews and nieces Sam Thurston, Tom Thurston, Susan Thurston Shirley, Dick Nelson, and Holly Sydow. She will be dearly missed by those who knew her, and her paintings will be cherished by all for years to come.